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Recently the Toronto Star asked the five perceived to be “major” candidates for Mayor of Toronto “Would you push the city to lobby the province to increase the minimum wage above $11 an hour?”

David Soknacki and Karen Stintz, predictably, simply said no to even lobbying for living wages! John Tory said, as do most municipal politicians, that it is allegedly a provincial responsibility. 

Rob Ford, apparently due to his “rehab,” said nothing at all.

Olivia Chow, was the lone one who said yes but she went on to say:

People deserve to earn a living wage — what minimum wages were created to do, and life in our city isn’t cheap. Until the province acts, we can help low-income families by keeping recreation and sports fees low. Rob Ford tried to abolish free fees in our poorest neighbourhoods, which was wrong.

This sounds good at first, but is really not. It is actually a cop-out. Chow has run a very “Big Tent” centre-right campaign to date and this plays right into that. She does not say what “living wage” she would advocate for and falls back on rhetoric that actually has nothing at all to do with the minimum wage. This is not a hopeful sign.

Trish Hennessey said in the Toronto Star that:

The last time our economists calculated the living wage for Toronto it was $16.60 an hour. That’s what it took in 2008 for each worker living in Toronto to pay the rent, put food on the table and pay basic bills. With the rising cost of living, that number would be higher today.

Is a $15 an hour municipal minimum wage possible in Toronto as City Councillors in American cities like Chicago, New York and Seattle have been fighting for, or is it true, as John Tory says, that it is a provincial issue? 

It is possible. The reality is that almost all municipal politicians simply want to pass the buck.

How can a municipal minimum wage be achieved? There are at least three ways.

First, the city directly controls numerous contracts on city owned venues like the CNE, City Hall, the Zoo, etc. Coffee shops, fast food restaurants, vendors and the city itself employ people in these venues and the city can absolutely require that any contract issued or any person employed in these city owned or dependent contexts be paid $15 an hour. 

The fact that Toronto municipal politicians do not at least acknowledge this shows just how willing they are to leave workers behind! 

Second, and directly related to the first, the city can enact a “Living Wage Policy” as New Westminster, B.C. has, that actually goes far beyond the minimum wage:

The City of New Westminster became a “Living Wage Employer” — the first City in Canada to do so. As such, the City has established a Living Wage Policy that requires all firms that are contracted directly or subcontracted by the City to provide services on City premises to pay their employees who perform the services a Living Wage as calculated by the Living Wage for Families Campaign. The figure for 2014 for the Lower Mainland is $20.10, assuming no benefits are provided by the employer.

The best part of this is is that it aims for living as opposed to minimum wages while the vast majority of  Toronto politicians still try to pretend this is not possible. 

New Westminster can do it…but “World Class” Toronto cannot. The facile and empty nature of the debate in Toronto’s neo-liberal sham is exposed by the inability of its alleged civic leaders to act when they actually can.  

Finally, Toronto (and all other Ontario municipalities) can, according to the Ontario Municipal Act, enact by-laws that are for the “Economic, social and environmental well-being of the municipality.” The city also controls the issuance and renewal  of business licenses and the legislation allows this to be tied to any number of conditions. 

Want a business license…pay a living wage!

Even if the City of Toronto were to face a court challenge around this, which it would, it would be a fight that would mobilize the disfranchised. Left Councillors would actually be standing for something that really matters. 

It is possible, it has been done elsewhere, and the fact is that four months remain to force municipal candidates in Toronto and Ontario to stop passing the buck and to stand up for living wages and for $15 now.

This will not happen if we keep saying poverty wages are not a municipal issue.

They are!